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Thermal history influences lesion recovery of the threatened Caribbean staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis under heat stress


Anthropogenic climate change is the biggest threat to coral reefs, but reef restoration efforts are buying time for these ecosystems. Lesion recovery, which can be a determinant of colony survival, is particularly important for restored species. Here, we evaluate lesion recovery of 18 genets of Acropora cervicornis from Florida reefs with different thermal regimes in a temperature challenge experiment. Genets demonstrated significant variability in healing, which greatly slowed under heat stress. Only 35% of fragments healed at 31.5 °C compared to 99% at 28 °C. Donor reef thermal regime significantly influenced lesion recovery under heat stress with corals from warmer reefs demonstrating greater healing than corals from cooler reefs, but did not influence recovery under ambient conditions. These findings should encourage practitioners to utilize rapidly healing genets, avoid fragmentation in high temperatures, and incorporate assisted relocation by moving corals from warmer to cooler reefs, where they might succeed under future climate conditions.

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We would like to thank D. Hesley, M. D’Alessandro, N. Rivas, J. Unsworth, and J. Carrick for their contributions to this project. This project was funded by NOAA’s Restoration Center (award OAA-NMFS-HCPO-2016-2004840). Corals were collected under Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission Permit SAL-19-1794-SCRP. MMM data were provided by GHRSST and the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

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Correspondence to Madeline L. Kaufman.

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Kaufman, M.L., Watkins, E., van Hooidonk, R. et al. Thermal history influences lesion recovery of the threatened Caribbean staghorn coral Acropora cervicornis under heat stress. Coral Reefs 40, 289–293 (2021).

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